Rock Hill’s longtime Mayor Doug Echols will not seek re-election

Special to The Herald

Mayor Doug Echols said this time next year he hopes to spend more time with his wife, Sylvia, at their farm. They enjoy long weekends at the 35-acre family farm in Waynesville, N.C., where Echols grows flowers.

It’s enjoyable, he says, but he also said he has no intention of leaving Rock Hill.

Echols announced Tuesday he will not run for a sixth term as the city’s mayor.

“We’re just getting started, as a city,” Echols said. “And we’re starting from a position of strength.”

Echols said he’s stepping down to spend more time with his family and pursue “new opportunities.” He has served Rock Hill for nearly three decades – including most of the past 20 years as mayor. Echols was first elected mayor in 1998, and is serving his fifth term. Prior to that, he served two four-year terms on the City Council.

Supporters say Echols was a key reason Rock Hill survived the collapse of the local textile industry. He also held a reputation as an amiable dealmaker, who used his extensive background in athletics to help mold Rock Hill into a sports tourism destination in the Southeast.

“It has been a great honor and privilege to serve in this capacity,” Echols said in a statement. “The people of Rock Hill have always been supportive of the direction our City Council has moved to respond to public needs and challenges.”

It’s a great privilege to serve the people of Rock Hill. I have a lot of pride to see what the council and I have been able to do. There are great days ahead in our future.

Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols

Echols was praised Tuesday for his support of several economic development and sports tourism initiatives, including Cherry Park, Manchester Meadows and a proposed indoor sports complex in the downtown University Center area.

Officials estimate that sports tourism, which began with the construction of Cherry Park in the 1980s, has potentially paved the way for a $36 million industry.

“He stayed focused on moving the city forward,” said council member Kathy Pender, who said she appreciated Echols’ ability to bring people together. “It’s what he’ll be remembered for.”

Echols pointed to his city managers and council members, saying they worked together to give “their time and energy for our community.” He’s worked with five city managers (Joe Lanford, Russell Allen, Gerry Schapiro, Carey Smith and David Vehaun), as well as numerous council members.

The mayor said any city improvements enacted under his watch were the accomplishments of “the whole team, and I was fortunate to be a part of that team.”

“I think we brought Rock Hill to the tipping point,” Echols said. “The community has changed. We’ve established a platform where the next generation of Rock Hill can launch new change.”

Council member Sandra Oborokumo was surprised by Echols’ announcement.

“I’m speechless. I’m devastated,” Oborokumo said. “I cannot imagine my service to the city without his leadership. The mayor was very respectful of everyone. You don’t have to agree or like everyone, but you have to be respectful.”

Oborokumo said Echols’ commitment to economic development brought Rock Hill from a textile town to the fifth-largest city in South Carolina.

York County Council member William “Bump” Roddey said Echols was a key figure in major developments such as bringing the Velodrome to the Riverwalk community and attracting construction of the Manchester Meadows soccer complex. Both venues regularly bring thousands of visitors to Rock Hill.

The UCI BMX World Championships, scheduled for July 25-30 at Riverwalk’s Supercross track, should bring a direct economic impact of $13 million, according to John Gettys, chairman of the Rock Hill Sports Commission.

“He definitely made Rock Hill a progressive city,” Roddey said. “His contribution to the city was tremendous. Some of the things he’s championed is going to leave a legacy in Rock Hill for many generations.”

Echols and his wife, Sylvia, have two children, Chad and Sara, and four grandchildren.

He said he still has much to do in the months before his term ends in October. He said he believes the core areas of transition, such as Riverwalk, Dave Lyle Boulevard and the University Center area, would foster even more innovation.

“It’s a great privilege to serve the people of Rock Hill,” Echols said. “I have a lot of pride to see what the council and I have been able to do. There are great days ahead in our future.”

The city will hold a general election Oct. 17.

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @dthackham

Other highlights from Mayor Doug Echols’ career

▪  In 1998, Echols was elected to serve as mayor of Rock Hill after two four-year terms on the City Council

▪  He has served as a past president of the Municipal Association of South Carolina, representing the state’s 270 cities and towns. He also served as a president of the Association of South Carolina Mayors

▪  He has served as a member of the board of directors of the National League of Cities, and has served as chairman of the Southern Municipal Conference.